President Trump might be unpredictable, but Latinos have been been shaping the socio economic landscape of the United States for decades. What does the future hold for them? And can a wall really separate America from Mexico?
Hispanics in the United States by the numbers
But how many Latinos are there in the United States? The numbers are even more surprising and astonishing that you might have thought. No other group in the history of the United States has grown so fast or had so much impact in the demographics of the nation.
In the beginning of the 20th century, there were only 500.000 Spanish-speakers in the United States. Most were in the Southern states, in areas that once belonged to Mexico. By 1980, Latinos already accounted for 6.5% of the total population with 14.8 million people (about half of the African-American population). But it was between 1980 and 2000 that the group really grew: Latinos accounted for 40% of the country’s population growth during that period. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau said they were the largest minority group in the country.
The impact of Hispanics, obviously, goes well beyond demography. Over years, little bits of different cultures have permeated into the mainstream. Tacos and pupusas became regular snacks, Latinos are now represented on TV, Caribbean music and dances are increasingly popular. Spanish-language signage, ads and media grew exponentially once the business community realized that they could capitalize on the large Spanish-speaking market.
Even politicians are taking note: Latinos concentrate on the nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas, and could be key in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada.
Today, there are 55 million Hispanics in the United States - roughly ⅕ of the population. It’s also the youngest demographic group in the country: 21% of all millennials are Latinos, and ⅔ were already born in the United States. What does this mean for the future? Approximately 50,000 Hispanic-Americans will turn 18 every month for the next two decades.
Some predictions indicate that Hispanics will be 24% of the population in 2065. By then, 1 in 3 Americans will have immigrant parents (compared to 1 in 4 today), and most of them will be from Asian countries and Latin America. But since immigrants from Asia don’t belong to a single language group, Spanish will continue to be the second most spoken language.
Do all Hispanic-Americans speak Spanish?
The number of Hispanic-Americans is certainly an important figure when we try to estimate the number of Spanish speakers in the United States. Not all Hispanics necessarily speak Spanish, and it’s important to understand if new generations - and today’s millennials - will continue to speak it in the future.
A study by Havas PR North America indicated that Hispanics feel more committed to a certain city or state than white Americans. They are less open to the idea of moving to another state, prefer to settle in areas close to border with Mexico and in neighborhoods with Hispanic communities. The reasons for this might be deeply rooted in their Latin culture, which in turn is rooted in large, extended families and a strong sense of community.
Hispanics don’t erase this part of their lifestyle once they move to America - they continue to rely on their communities. And in truth, the emigration experience in itself makes people more prone to do so. It’s generally accepted by experts that a culture shock can make one feel more connected to elements of their national identity (in extreme cases, this phenomenon leads to segregated areas in destination countries based on religion, language or place of origin.)
As a result of this community sentiment, younger Hispanics continue to practice and use the language. Around 74% of Hispanic households use both Spanish at home; 82% of second-generation Hispanics speak Spanish. Even a whopping 47% of third-generation Hispanics are conversational in Spanish. In 2012, 95% of Hispanics also thought it was important that the new generations would continue to speak Spanish.
These statistics, if matched with a continuous influx of workers from Spanish-speaking countries and with an increasing number of second-language speakers, indicate that almost a third of the American population will be able to communicate in Spanish by 2050.
It seems equally important to highlight that most of these speakers won’t be migrants (or “bad hombres”, like Mr. Trump called them), but citizens already born on U.S. soil. Today’s bilingual Latino millennials are more educated than their parents and much more likely to reach positions on corporate boards, be government officials or run for political office.
United States and Mexico - an unreciprocated love affair?
The relationship between the neighboring countries has always been somewhat rocky. The United States have tried to interfere with Mexican policies since President Woodrow Wilson’s tenure. But in the 1990s, under President Bill Clinton and the new NAFTA agreement, the economies of the two countries became increasingly intertwined.
Of America’s 55 million strong Hispanic population, almost ⅔ can trace their origins to Mexico. A lot of Mexicans (like other Latinos) arrived in the United States as cheap workforce, and for a long time that was Mexico’s biggest “export” to their powerful neighbor. Even renowned chef Anthony Bourdain has confessed that “Latinos are the backbone of the restaurant industry in the U.S.”.
After NAFTA, a lot of American companies moved their factories to Mexico, where labor (and thus, the manufacturing cost) is cheaper. European companies took note and also settled there - as a result, an overwhelming 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States. About 50% of foreign investment comes directly from American businesses.
These numbers clearly explain why Mexico, one of the world’s greatest emerging markets, is particularly vulnerable to changes in American politics. When (then) president-elect Trump said that he would impose a 35% tariff on all products coming from Mexico, Mexico’s own president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was eager to negotiate a trade agreement with E.U. (the agreement could be an update of the Global Trade Agreement, which has been in place since 1997.) He also vowed not to pay for Mr. Trump’s infamous wall, threatening that he could bring American “pain points” to the negotiation table. After all, Mexico is a key player on the war on drugs, and has been fighting endless wars with Central and South American cartels whose only purpose is supplying the American market.
But more voices have warned that the effects of such a tariff could be disastrous for the American economy. Sigmar Gabriel said that “The US car industry would have a bad awakening if all the supply parts that aren’t being built in the US were to suddenly come with a 35% tariff. I believe it would make the US car industry weaker, worse and above all more expensive.” And in light of these predictions, America might have to face that the affair with Mexico cannot be unreciprocated - it’s already a full-fledged, bilingual cohabitation.
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